We've spent the past few months soaking up as much information as possible about sawmills - YouTube videos, blog posts, forums, and even helping out a local sawyer to get some hands on experience.
Even so, finding ourselves standing in front of the mill, ready to saw our first log was still pretty nerve-wracking! With piles of logs to choose from, where to start?
Cants & Stickers
Milling is just the first step in a process of turning a log into usable lumber. The next step is to carefully stack the lumber so it can air dry. When stacking the lumber, it's essentially that each piece is completely flat as it dries, but also that air is able to freely flow around all the pieces to dry them.
The solution to this is to stack the lumber on top of cants - in our case, 4x4" pieces of wood to keep the pile off the floor and allow airflow underneath.
On top of each cant is laid a sticker - a 1x1" piece of wood. The wood to dry is then laid perpendicular to the stickers in a layer. More layers are added on top, each separated by more stickers to allow airflow.
But where do you get cants and stickers from? We mill them of course!
So for our very first log we chose a relatively small spruce, a little over 8ft long. We have a LOT of spruce to clear for the house site in spring next year so we can afford to make a few mistakes.
After going through our pre-cutting checklist about 3 times we were ready go go. We loaded our chosen log onto the sawmill, lined up our first cut and with a little trepidation fired up the 14hp gas engine.
Diana kept a close eye on progress from one side while I pushed the saw head from the other. The powerful engine and brand new blade made light work of the cut - the phrase "like a knife through butter" would be very appropriate!
It didn't take long at all before we had cut our first 4x4 cant, and a few pieces of 2x4 material too.
Building a Saw Horse
Wait, 2x4? I thought we were trying to produce 1x1 stickers.
Well, we are, but bootstrapping an operation like this is complex. We don't just have to mill our cants and stickers but we also have to cut them to length. For that we needed a platform to put them on to make the cut - we needed a saw horse.
OK, we totally could have used the tailgate on the truck or the equipment trailer or something else. But we wanted to build something!
I had previously found a YouTube video on how to build a simple saw horse using basic cuts of wood and a handful of screws. I was impressed with the simplicity of the design, but also the ease with which we could cut the wood we needed.
And yes, I appreciate the irony that we had to cross-cut this wood too, just like the stickers and we did that on the trailer deck! But the point is that we made a saw horse. A really strong, solid, stable saw horse.
Let me just reiterate that - in the space of just a few hours we had turned a spruce log into a fully functioning saw horse. I realize that in the universe of human achievements, this ranks as pretty minor, but to us it was a huge accomplishment - we built a real, useful thing out of raw materials on our land.
In fact, we were so pleased with the saw horse that the next time we were back at the property a few days later, we built another one!
After the success milling our first log, we moved on and milled several more spruce logs, first creating a load of stickers.
And then cants.
It wasn't long before we had more than a dozen cants and a hundred stickers - a good start but a tiny fraction of the number we'd eventually need. These are still green lumber, and as such are prone to twisting and warping just like any other lumber we'll mill so we decided to stack and sticker them to let them dry for a few days - nowhere near enough for them to fully dry, but even a few days will help.
We have a distinct lack of flat space on our property so we opted to stack the stickers and cants on our equipment trailer deck for now.
Once we seriously start milling lumber though, we'll need a LOT more storage space. We have a plan for that...stay tuned to see what our next project is!